Thursday, January 27, 2011

An Attitude of Gratitude

If you're a regular reader, you probably already know that Grams has recently experienced a bout of feeling a little sorry for myself. I called it the "blahs" in this blog post. This is not something I've experienced regularly. I have sisters-in-law and siblings who deal with serious depression and I know that this is not that. It's just been a whole pile of stuff that has happened to me and to people I love and it's gone on so long that it seems never ending.

Being the person I am, I decided that I needed to do something to change my attitude. In an amazing coincidence, my online friend Jennifer started a Facebook group called 2,011 Gratitudes in 2011. Here are the only guidelines for participating:
In an effort to reclaim gratitude in our lives - 2,011 gratitudes has created this page to let YOU put out what makes you happy every single day of 2011. It's user friendly and you get to put it out in the Universe so you can learn to appreciate everything you have. The only rule is - NO REPEATS. You have to find 2,011 different things to be grateful for - 5 things every day (with 186 days needing 6). We won't be weirded out by what you find - if you're grateful for it - SHARE IT!
Now I don't know Jennifer well. I originally met her on the Texas Message Board at Obesity Help, an online support group for people who are considering or have had weight loss surgery. I met her in real life for just a couple of minutes at an OH conference a couple of years ago. Her husband is a cancer survivor and I've been so amazed at how she has stayed positive and downright sunny through her husband's treatment and recovery. On top of that, several of her other family members have also been seriously ill but Jenny just really finds a way to shine through. She also makes the most amazing and creative baked goodies for her daughter and her classmates.

The object of the exercise is to take time every day to look for things to be thankful for. It has definitely been an exercise for me. Every evening, just before bedtime, I take a few minutes and think about the day. It makes me think about how much I have and how blessed I am. It truly makes me count my blessings.

It's not a big group, there are only five or six ladies who are actively involved in the group. The bonus is, I'm getting to know all of them better. We're all very different in age, careers, family lifestyles, etc. But we're all getting to know and appreciate each other. And, we're all growing as a result of the exercise.

I'll be honest, this is still work for me. Some nights it would be easier for me to just go to bed. But the truth is, like any exercise, it gets easier with practice. I'm exercising my attitude of gratitude and, in the long run, I know I'll be a happier person for it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Grams Made Turkey Feta Olive Burgers

Grandad and Grams are working on getting back to healthy eating this week. We've been somewhat out of control since the holidays. I'm also working on "shopping my cupboard" which means I'm trying to use up what is in my cabinets and refrigerator. I had about 3/4 of a package of feta cheese and a pound of ground turkey breast. This is what I came up with.

1 pound ground turkey breast
1 egg
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and form into 4 patties.  Cook on pre-heated George Foreman grill for 9 minutes or cook on grill for 4-5 minutes on each side.

They were really good. I served them with baked sweet potato fries and spinach with garlic and olive oil. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Meet My New Baby

Grams has been waiting a long time for today ... more than 9 months. And here she is, my new baby.

I bought her yesterday at Best Buy. I've been saving for months. This is the first computer I've ever bought just for me. We have a Dell desktop in my craft room, but it was purchased as a family computer and is several years old. The laptop I've been using for the last two years is a Dell Latitude that runs Windows 2000. It's at least 7 years old, probably older. My husband rescued it from recycling.

My new laptop is an ASUS with an Intel® Pentium® Processor, 15.6" Display, 3GB Memory, and 500GB Hard Drive. I love it. It's so fast compared to any other computer I've ever used. Unlike my previous model, it has everything built in, a web-cam, a card reader for my camera card, and, most important to me, a wireless modem. The only way to run wireless on my old laptop was with a wireless modem that had to be plugged into the side like a jump drive. I broke more than one of them off over the years and it was always a problem when Our Little Princess visited, because she kept bumping into it.

My new laptom runs Windows 7. The keyboard features "island-style" keys and has a full keyboard including a number pad. I'm having a little bit of trouble adjusting to the placements of the "enter" key and the "backspace" key. It's just slightly different from what I'm used to, but I'm sure it will only take a day or two.

I'm looking forward to many happy hours of blogging, surfing, emailing, and Facebooking. I'm sure we'll be very happy together.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How I Spent My Winter Vacation

The school district where Grams works has a winter break. Just one week after returning from the Christmas holidays, our school district closes for a winter break. When we first moved here 25 years ago this was shocking to me. I now realize that they do this because many of the kids participate in the Nueces County Junior Livestock Show which is one of the largest shows of its type anywhere in the USA. It seems like everything stops for the stock show. Some of the churches don't even have Sunday School or religious education classes that weekend. That's how seriously everyone takes the stock show. One other item of note is the weather. It seems like every year the weather is nasty during the stock show. It's almost always cold and wet.

Winter break means no work for Grams as a substitute teacher. This year I saw this as an opportunity to spend a little quality time with Our Little Princess. I arranged to meet her Mom in Beeville for lunch and a baby exchange on Wednesday and I would keep her until Sunday. We made these plans back in December.

Baily and Ralphie
Shortly after these plans were made, my son asked me if I would dog sit for my grand-dogs, Ralphie and Baily. Both Nick and Marie had to be out of town on business for an entire week and boarding two big dogs is expensive. So we brought Ralphie and Baily home from Houston with us. Nick was coming to Corpus Christi for a bachelor party the next weekend and would pick them up then.

I wasn't too worried about having both The Princess and the dogs. She has a dog at home and has been around Ralphie and Baily before. Plus, Ralphie and Baily are pretty gentle and laid back dogs. And, I figured I could always put the dogs in the back yard for a while if they all needed a break from each other. I didn't consider that the weather would prevent this.

Baily "mothering" Our Little Princess
Ralphie wasn't too interested in anything except snuggling up on the sofa and sleeping. He's good that way. Baily on the other hand was extremely interested in anything Our Little Princess was doing. She followed her around like, well, like a puppy dog. Baily seems to have some strong "mothering" instincts. She was all about whatever The Princess was doing and was right in her face at every opportunity. At first it was a little bit daunting. The Princess would shake her finger at Baily and tell her "no." Baily didn't respond much to her "no" so I would sometimes have to intervene with a more stern voice, but as soon as I looked away, Baily would be back right next to the baby.

I didn't really take the bad weather into account with my planning. It was rainy, cold and nasty all week. There was no opportunity for outdoor play for anyone. I couldn't take baby for walks and I couldn't let the dogs out to play. It was pretty challenging just to find a break in the weather so the dogs could go outside to take care of their business. After a couple of days, it was exhausting to try to keep Baily out of her face all day long. So a couple of afternoons, I bundled up Our Little Princess and took her to the local mall to enjoy the indoor play area. It got us out of the house and gave everyone, including the dogs, a break.
Rain, rain go away

But, as the week went on, Baily and Our Little Princess became buddies. Baily could easily turn into one of those dogs that little girls could dress up like a doll. She just loves to be played with and doted on, especially by children. By the end of the week, they were playmates and fast friends.

There is one other photo I want to show you. In the wake of Christmas, I have not returned our living room furniture to it's usual configuration. On previous visits, Our Little Princess could sit on the sofa and be in between Grams at one end of the sofa and Grandad in his recliner. But, with our current configuration, each of us sits in a chair and there is an end table in between the chairs. This seemed to frustrate her and she clearly didn't like it. But it didn't stop her from sitting between us. She just climbed up on the table and had a seat. Problem solved!

Who needs a chair?
When Sunday came, Nick took his dogs home and we took Our Little Princess to meet her parents in Three Rivers. We returned home to an extremely quiet house. It's almost like adjusting to my empty nest all over again. But it was nice and quiet while I watched the red carpet arrivals and the Golden Globes. I do enjoy my empty nest ... but now and then it's nice to have the chicks visit.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Substitute Diaries on Re-writing Literature

Grams favorite days as a substitute teacher are the days when I get to teach English or Language Arts. It's no secret to anyone who knows me that reading is my passion.

Photo credit
The week before the Christmas holidays I had the opportunity to teach a high school English class that was reading Julius Caesar. I was very excited to learn that they were reading the parts aloud. This is something I remember doing when I was in school. Assigning students to read each part makes for active class participation that this literature lover can really get into. Clearly the plays of William Shakespeare were written to be performed, not read silently.

Imagine my horror when they started reading and I discovered they were reading a modern American translation of Julius Caesar. Seriously! Specifically, they were reading Act 2, Scene II, about Calpurnia's dream.

In the original text Calpurnia said:
What mean you, Caesar? think you to walk forth?
You shall not stir out of your house to-day.
In the modern translation Calpurnia said:
What are you doing, Caesar? Are you planning to go out? You’re not leaving the house today.
I found this disturbing on so many levels. First of all, I'm offended that anyone thinks that high school students can not learn to read and understand Shakespearean English. We did it and I know they're at least as smart as we were. And, second, isn't the way Shakespeare wrote what made Shakespeare Shakespeare? Translation into modern English takes away the rhythm and rhyme of the writing. Shakespeare DID NOT write in modern English. High school students SHOULD NOT read Shakespeare in modern English. Re-writing Shakespeare is what I call a tragedy!

Photo credit
Then, last week I heard a news story that reported that NewSouth, Inc. will publish new editions of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. These new editions will omit the use of the "n-word." WHAT?

If my memory serves me correctly, the use of the "n-word" is central to these stories. It's part of describing the world that Tom and Huck lived in. In my opinion, it's integral to understanding the relationship that Tom had with Jim and what was extraordinary about that relationship. To replace the "n-word" with the word "slave" is not right. Changing that word does not change the reality of the world in that time period. It's part of our history.

As George Santayana said:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Attitude Adjustment

Grandad and I arrived home from Houston late on Saturday evening. I've been meaning to write a blog post for several days, but I seem to have a bad case of the blahs.

Generally speaking, I'm not a person who gets depressed or down. But, I've just got to tell you, the last three years has kicked my butt. And, in particular, this last trip to Houston for Grandad's second cardiac ablation just about got the best of me.

Don't get me wrong. The second ablation which Grandad had last week went well. The doctors are very optimistic. They really think they may have solved the problem of continuing A-fib and flutter. We're all hopeful. But Grandad is having a much harder recovery than he did last time. He has a lot of chest pain, shortness of breath, and very little stamina. Right now we're in a wait and see mode while his heart heals.

It kind of feels like my life has become a bad country song. You know ... my mother got sick ... my husband got sick ... my mother died ... my husband got sick again ... he didn't get better ... and so on and so forth.  All I need is a pick-up truck and a guitar to complete the scenario.

I'm ready to cry uncle ... throw in the proverbial towel ... whatever. I'm done. It's time for a break. I'm exhausted and worn out. If I thought it would do any good I would open the window and shout "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more" like Howard Beale in Network. But other than letting off a little steam, I don't think that would accomplish anything.

Photo from Photobucket
I think I've spent the past three years so focused on Grandad's health and all the other stuff that I've had to deal with that focusing on "stuff" has become habitual. It's time to develop some new habits. I need to stop focusing so much on what I can not control and focus instead on what I can control. One of the things I can control (hopefully) is my attitude. So I've decided to take a more positive approach. 

I've joined a group of my Facebook friends in finding 2,011 Gratitudes in 2011. Each one of us is consciously looking for things to be grateful for every day. And each one of us is posting our own list of 2,011 things that we're grateful for. I'm think it will make me more aware that I have many things to be grateful for. And I'm hoping that it will give me an attitude of gratitude and a brighter outlook on life.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Grams Made Greek Chicken & Orzo Soup

It's Monday evening and we're at our son's house in Houston waiting for Grandad's pre-operative testing tomorrow. We have to be at the Texas Heart Institute at 9 a.m.

Nick returned from a week in Canada with his wife Marie where they snowboarded and rang in the new year. He's feeling a little under the weather so I cooked up a big pot of Greek Chicken & Orzo Soup. This is one of my favorite recipes. The first time I had it, Katy made it for us. It's thickened with eggs instead of corn starch or flour, so it's high in protein and low in carbohydrates.

8 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup of orzo
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
3 eggs
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
Salt and white pepper to taste
2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes

Roast chicken breasts in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes until done. Cut crosswise into 1/4-inch thick pieces.

In a large saucepan, bring stock to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and add orzo and parsley.  Cook uncovered about 15 minutes until orzo is done. Five minutes before pasta is done, add chicken.

Place eggs in mixing bowl. Whisk eggs while adding lemon juice. Whisking constantly, slowly pour a ladle of the hot stock into the egg mixture to temper.

Reduce heat to very low. Then, while whisking the soup in pan, slowly pour in the egg mixture. Soup should thicken slightly. Add salt and pepper and garnish with parsley.

Serve with crusty bread.